|INTRODUCING JOHAN MORE: THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL YOUNG POET WORKING IN AMERICA TODAY|
|By Will Leitch||
I have not met Johan More. I could not tell you what he looks like, how he dresses, or even how old he is. I have never spoken with him, nor have we corresponded over email. Every time I send him a private email, I don't hear back.
Johan More is one of those strange characters who show up unannounced, untethered, unprovoked, unleashed, in this weird online tundra. He introduced himself back in December 2001, on a mailing list/discussion group devoted "Life As a Loser," the online column I've been writing for nearly four years.
At first, Johan seemed like a rather disturbingly obsessed fan who once suggested to the readers of my dopey column that we all gather for a springtime tour of my hometown, Mattoon, Ill. I assumed it was a joke and sloughed it off, but Johan hung around, joining various discussions, lurking, waiting for his opportunity to explode into full bloom.
Then, in August of last year, Johan -- a bit of a folk hero to my readers by this point, all of them charmed by his boundless enthusiasm and signature signoff, "PEACE!" -- announced to a stunned list that he was leaving his job as an assistant copy writer to pursue a career as a professional poet.
His first was called: "Lover's Lament (Hoo, Lady!)."
Oh, to stroke brown
Her warmth without
She rubbed me
Shall I pounce?
Shall I pounce like
I will! I will pounce!
She's gone. Why?
And I'm left with wet pants
True, at first glance, his work seems coarse or even offensive. But there's a clear, sincere heart beating there. Johan's work has a child's innocence to it; his observations and scenarios have a purity that seems untouched by cynicism, rancor, or fear.
The poetry is lovely and its quiet, subtle humor sneaks up on you at the most unexpected of moments. But the shock is not in the language used, but in Johan's total obliviousness to the sticks of social dynamite that he's juggling.
What hope and innocence these poems have! I imagine Johan polishing off another one and rewarding himself with a Mr. Bubble bubble bath, or maybe curling up in a warm bear rug with some Yoo Hoo. Whoever Johan is, I bet he's at the circus right now, or maybe Six Flags. I can see him now -- beaming, giggling madly as he skips from ride to ride, cotton candy stuck to his lapels, releasing balloons into the heavens, asking fat ladies if they're pregnant.
And I emphasize whoever Johan is. This strange, naifish creature seems dropped from the nether.
What do we know about him?
According to some of his posts, he attended North Carolina State University before studying under Annie Hakins, the poet laureate of Charleston, South Carolina. He has a rather encyclopedic knowledge of poetry's vast history; in a piece for The Simon, Johan speed-references Dawson Petricillo, Benson McGillicutty, Dunstan Marshall and Vicente Faglilio like he's rattling off baseball statistics.
And he is persistent. Since his first appearance on my mailing list, he has rattled off 23 poems, which, I might add, is more poems than I have written columns in that time.
Look at Johan now. Less than a year after his first poem appeared on a small mailing list for an obscure writer, he's been published on The Simon, Jim Romenesko's Medianews, Pig Iron Malt, Foul magazine and the Web site for the St. Giles School for Boys, where he serves as the institution's poetry editor.
Not bad for a guy who had been slogging through advertising copy before chucking it all to chase his dream.
So, when BlackTable editor-in-chief Eric Gillin informed me that Johan would be a regular contributor to his new site, I was joyous, if somewhat befuddled. Did Eric, with apparent communication lines with Johan that were closed to me, know Johan any better than I did? Could he tell me more of his story?
Alas, Eric tells me that he simply asked Johan if BlackTable could run his work, and he acquiesced with little more than a "Thanks!"
Perhaps it is best this way. Perception of great artists' work is inevitably sullied by extraneous information about their personal lives -- I submit Woody Allen as Exhibit A. I don't need to try to draw connections between Johan's work and his life. I merely need to soak it in, bathe in it, let it speak to me the way it has spoken to others.
And, now, the way that it speaks to you. Do enjoy. And in the words of that lovable scamp -- PEACE!